The Uprising of the Well Maiden
Updated: Oct 23, 2020
By Molly Murfee
Well Maidens preside over the liminal edges of water, overflowing cups in hand, as they guard the secret outpourings of springs, the marshy edges of ponds and lakes fringed with reeds, the rocky beaches of riverbanks on a bend. On one side is the Otherworld, a place of balance and harmony, abundance and beauty, the life-giving bounty and power of the Earth.
On the other side, is the world of humans, fallible and bumbling. The two are constantly entangled, like pairing snakes writhing in the grass. The Well Maidens stand between as living bridges, and authoritative links. They are the gate keepers, assuring balance is maintained. They are the audible voices of the land, utilizing the speech of humans.
To receive the blessings of the Well Maidens, ancient Celtic kings in the countries we now know as Ireland, Scotland, Britain and Wales had to prove they were in right relationship with the land, imbued with honor and respect, taking just enough for human needs, and willfully leaving the rest for the wild cycles of nature and her creatures. The Well Maidens demanded stewardship, caretaking and reciprocity for their gifts. Protection. Guardianship.
To not actively cultivate and maintain such equilibrium meant the ruler was not allowed to sip from the cup of the Well Maiden, and therefore could not enjoy the fruitfulness of the land herself. Their power as link between the actions of humans and the gifts of the Earth communicated the voice of the Earth as supreme above all others.
The state of our world today indicates, clearly, this sacred contract has been broken.
There is a cultural undertow, especially in this country today, that you may buy your way into anything. It rules our politics and what we mindlessly inflict on our places, in order to extract their benefit. Capitalism has run amok, not just abandoning the relationship to the Earth the Well Maidens required, but downright abusing it. If a decision isn’t perceived to line our pocketbooks, over the side it goes, left to drown.
So often we are timid, afraid of offending, fearful of not receiving gold coins in our purse, and so we remain quiet, obedient to the ravenous, insatiable whims of a system prioritizing economics above all else, driven by fear and greed rather than responsibility and rightness.
There is a very old voice in our indigenous European heritage that is stronger, however.
Now, this Celtic archetype of the Well Maiden, this Steward, Protector and Guardian must be resurrected from the waters we have toxified. As she emerges from the sludge, dripping free of the poison we have bathed her in, it becomes apparent she is rightly, and royally pissed.
Her face becomes increasingly clear, until we recognize ourselves as her heirs, our own visage superimposed upon hers, great-granddaughters descended a thousand times over.
We have morphed into angry mothers, hands on our hips, jaws set, lips pursed. Mamma bears and mountains lions with cubs baring our teeth. We are wondering what the hell you’ve been up to. Spittle is on our lips.
We are here to take our culture back.
We are here to treat the land like we actually live in it.
We are sick of your domination and destruction.
Our voices, once uttered in a kind whisper at water’s edge, have become an intolerant roar.
The mere presence of money does not mean you get to do everything you want willy nilly, nor guarantee your existence will be tolerated. Just because your wallet is lined with gold does not mean you get to bully and boss. Your behavior is determinate. We offer you the grace of change. But to your purse of gold coins you must also add flecks of soil and water-whet stone, the feather of heron, fur of bear. In this, your most prized satchel, you must hold the scale of a fish, leaf of aspen, needle of spruce. The gently plucked hair from a person of each color. To remember. To remind.
These times demand we all rise up with the voice of the Well Maiden as stewards for our home places. Colloquially it might not seem so romantic: letting someone know they need to wear a mask, or back up to protect members of our community. It might be about not dropping toilet paper behind a bush or picking flowers. It might be about protesting against extractive industries pushing policies and politicians with their dollars to expand and expand and expand beyond the grotesque. It might be about reprimanding someone using a racial slur or standing up for someone whose voice is not heard. The message, however, is clear. Inappropriate behavior is no longer tolerated.
Right here. Right now. We are each of us Gate Keepers and Protector Spirits. We must find this voice, guard the portal armed with the tools of stewardship, responsibility and reciprocity.
Balance must be restored, right relationship must be restored, so that the cups overflow again …
Creative non-fiction and place-based author Molly Murfee specializes in nature and environmental writing cut with cultural and societal critique. Sign up for the Earth Muffin Memos Blog & Newsletter for more on her ongoing book project; field-based Writing & Connection Workshops; online advertising and syndicate column opportunities; and freelance writing services at www.mollymurfee.com.